The Long Journey to Becoming '10% Happier'

Part 1: How an on-air panic attack led ABC's Dan Harris to dive into America's self-help subculture.
3:00 | 03/12/14

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Transcript for The Long Journey to Becoming '10% Happier'
But now we are going to turn to a story we're calling "10% happier." We're trying something a little different on "Nightline" tonight because I'm going to tellyou a story about me. Actually, it's not just about me because I found a way to make myself significantly happier and it could probably work for you too. I stumbled upon this whole thing as a result of a bizarre, unplanned odyssey. And it all started with the most embarrassing day of my life. From ABC news this is "Good morning America." We're going to go now to Dan Harris, who's at the news desk. Dan? Good morning, Charlie and Diane. Thank you. Reporter: This is me ten years ago. And the reason this is the most embarrassing day of my life is not that it looks like I've been attacked by a blow dryer and a can of hairspray. No, it's that I am about to freak out on national television. Health news now. One of the world's most commonly prescribed medications may be providing a big bonus. Researchers report people who take cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins for at least five years may also lower their risk for cancer. But it's too early to prescribe statins solely for cancer production. Reporter: At this point I realize I'm helpless. So I bail right in the middle. That does it for news. We're going to go back now to robin and Charlie. The control room, clearly taken by surprise, continues to roll video for the next story, about harry potter, which I was no longer able to read. All right. Thanks very much, Dan Harris at the news desk with some of the headlines of the morning. Want to go to Tony Perkins now. Once the fear subsided, humiliation rushed in. I know with rock solid certainty that I had just had a panic attack on national television. So why would I tell you this very embarrassing story? Because that on-air meltdown was the culmination of something that had been building for years, something I never stopped to address. It's something we all battle, whether we have panic attacks or not. Call it "The voice in your head." You know the voice I'm talking about. The often nasty inner narrator who discourages and derails you when you're considering going after opportunities in your life. That stew of urges and impulses that has you losing your temper and regretting it later or putting your hand in the fridge when you're not even hungry. And for many of us it's that nagging temptation to float off into our own heads instead of actually listening to people. Kind of put me and the wife in -- It's a love story. Reporter: My favorite comedian Dave Chappelle nailed it on his show. Monkey. NASCAR race. Unicorns. Reporter: In my case like many Americans my inner voice was pushing me to succeed. Annual new year's party in New York. Reporter: This is me in my late 20s. Thank you, Dan. Reporter: I had my dream job. But I also had doubts about whether I was good enough. It's hard to do that. I'm going to try it. Three, two, one. Reporter: My solution? Become a workaholic. After 9/11 I volunteered to spend years in war Zones where I covered the heroics of our men and women overseas and got a real taste of both the horror and the adrenaline of combat. To institute health care for -- Reporter: Now here I am back home. Practice makes perfect, you know. Reporter: I may look okay, but the guy you see here, he's having trouble getting out of bed. This tax debate is one of the clearest choices in this election. Reporter: After years of always barreling forward, when I finally slowed down it was as if my mind revolted and I got depressed. And so in my free time I briefly but stupidly began self-medicating, even using cocaine, which my doctor would later tell me almost certainly produced that on-air panic attack. That realization, that I'd been blindly letting my urges and impulses yank me around, became a turning point. Eventually I would find the antidote to this kind of mindlessness, something that would, to quote the somewhat tongue in cheek title of a new book I've written, make me 10% happier. But to get there a few other things had to happen. We're going to take a closer look tonight at the continuing battle about teaching evolution -- Reporter: Coincidentally, it was around this time that my boss, peter Jennings, assigned me to cover the religion beat. To be candid, I was not initially super interested in the subject. This was the last time I read scripture. My bar mitzvah. But here I am. Nice to meet you. Reporter: Among the believers, going to mega churches, mosques, and Mormon temples. I made real friendships. Each of us could learn something from the others. Reporter: And developed a newfound and lasting respect for the value of having a view of the world that's larger than just yourself. However, none of what I encountered spoke to me personally. That all changed, though, when one of my colleagues recommended I check out this rather odd little man. Welcome. Reporter: The best-selling oprah-approved self-help guru eckhart Tolle. Largeness arise which is different from thinking. Reporter: Tolle was the first person I ever heard talk about the voice in the head, which he says is so busy obsessing about the past or the future that you miss what's happening right now and make stupid decisions. Like I had done when I got depressed and self-medicated with drugs. So I decided I need to meet this guy. Do you stop thinking? How do you stop the voice in your head? You create little spaces in your daily life where you are aware but not thinking. For example, you take one conscious breath. Reporter: Unbreak my heart, Tolle. That's all the practical advice you've got? I can hear the cynics in the audience saying -- guys saying, I can awaken by taking a deep breath, what is he talking about? Yes. That's the mind talking. So that's -- of course many people will have their mind commenting on what I'm saying and saying that is useless. That was exactly what my mind was saying. Don't you ever get pissed off, annoyed, irritated, sad? Anything negative? No. I accept what is. And that's why life has become so simple. Somebody cuts you off in your car? It's fine. It's like a sudden gust of wind. I don't personalize a gust of wind. And so it's simply what is. And you're able to enjoy every moment? Even if I started asking you a ton of annoying questions -- Yes. That would be fine. So it's really -- Don't tempt me. I walked out of the interview deeply confused by Tolle but still very much intrigued by the notion of defanging the voice in my head. As it happened, just a few weeks later I was moderating a debate for "Nightline," and one of the guests was deepak Chopra. The inspiration for the movie "The love guru." My goal is to get you to say gee, you are you. Tm. I couldn't resist whipping out my little camera to ask if he had any practical advice. So your mind doesn't wander? You don't find yourself thinking about things that are in the past or in the future as opposed to in the present? I have no regrets about the past. I do not hold resentments or grievances that come from the past. And I don't anticipate the future. I live in the moment. Okay. So what if the moment is horrible? What if you really have to go to the bathroom and there's no toilet nearby? Or what if you're super hungry -- Then I separate myself from the situation surrounding the moment. The moment is always free. It's the transformational vortex to the infinite. Apparently, when one lives in the moment one becomes unafraid to use terms like "Transformational vortex to the infinite." With deepak not making any sense to me I decided to dive further into America's self-help subculture, where things only got we'd weirder. Do you want to be a millionaire? What kind of business do you want to have? Reporter: I met a gaggle of gurus, many of whom featured prominently in the best-selling book and DVD "The seeshlth." And their advice for dealing with the voice in my head was to force myself to do more positive thinking, which they promised could get me -- Anything you want. Reporter: This is Joe Vitale, who charges five grand for a ride in his rolls-royce. Well, there are people who think I should charge a lot more than that. They think that's giving it away. Reporter: And who in this interview, as you're about to see, folds like a cheap lawn chair. So what if I want a thing? A diamond necklace for my wife. I can get that by thinking about it? Not just thinking about it. That's one of the biggest misconceptions of all time. You have to take action. Isn't that a statement of the glaringly obvious? You think it's news to most people that if you want something you have to want it and then try to get it? You know, when you put it that way it sounds silly and actually pretty brainless. After listening to me yammer on about all of this for months, my then fiancee Bianca, who's a doctor, decided to intervene. She started giving me books to read. Books that made me realize that all this stuff about the voice in the head and being in the moment, these are ideas that people have been talking about for centuries. From the buddha to Sigmund Freud to -- Throw the ball! Reporter: To coach tail fylor from Friday night lights." I suggest you wake up get your head in this game. Reporter: I read tons of these books, stacks of them. And it's through this Reading that I found something that does work. It's simple, scientifically tested, and completely free. The problem was it sounded totally unacceptable to me.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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